ds106: The Breakfast Club Edition

On Monday I started teaching five students as part of the Summer Enhancement Program for high school age students. I proposed a Digital Storytelling class—surprise, surprise—that spans two weeks and what I figured I would do is have them do an abbreviated, two-week session of ds106 that lasts for 2 and a half hours a day for 4 days over a two week span (“Two weeks Bender, I gotch you!”). The nice part is there are no grades to worry about and the class infrastructure is all set up and ready to go thanks to ds106.us.*

I haven’t taught high schoolers since 2003-2004 when I taught English at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn, NY. That was a trip, and to be honest I couldn’t get out of Dodge soon enough. The kids were awesome but the actual institution had more in common with a jail than a school, and I was starting to think more like a warden than a teacher (it was the early years of the Bloomberg/Klein anti-Union trail of terror). I’m no martyr, and the one thing I learned from that experience is monolithic institutions like the NYC Public School System will crush your spirit quickly and mercilessly—especially when run by robber baron financiers.

Anyway, I was already excited to get back in the saddle for this two week session with a whole different breed of students and having wrapped up day two a little while ago I am thrilled at the progress so far. Yesterday I gave them a brief introduction to Digital Storytelling, had them all tell me their own stories, and then headed up to the computer lab and had the lot of them get a WordPress blog site (one of them already had a Blogger blog!). I then showed them the basics of posting, talked about incorporating media around the web (YouTube, Flickr, links, etc.), discussed the importance of their controlling their privacy while working on the web, and that’s all we had time for.

Today we got right into the thick of Visual assignments and I used Alan Levine’s in class exercise for Photography for the first 30 minutes to get them out and about around campus to explore and get in the habit of looking and seeing anew. They were asked to do the following:

  • Make an ordinary object look more interesting, almost supernatural.
  • Take a portrait of a person; have them display an emotion.
  • Take a photo that makes use of converging lines.

And I was pretty impressed with what they came up with, take a look at this one for an interesting object by Emma Rose:

Or this one for converging lines:

I’m pretty blown away by the results thus far, and after this experiment I turned them onto the Daily Create which they will be doing for the next two weeks. Easy as pie—open course architecture that provides a communal infrastructure that works and anyone can tap into? That’s far more interesting to me than MOOCs.

After we shared our photos and discussed the shots, we headed up to the computer lab and I introduced them to the wonderful world of the ds106 assignment bank, which has 372 assignments and over 4000 examples! They seemed to love this whole idea, and I let them know they had ten stars of visual assignments due by Thursday, with another 10 design stars due by Sunday (you must work them hard!). We spent the last hour and a half  discussing Flickr, picking an assignment, and learning the basics of layers in Photoshop (but the concept can be easily abstracted to any photo editing software). We did the Creep on a Movie Scene assignment because it’s fun and it provides a relatively simple introduction to layers in Photoshop. I spent a half hour trying to explain layers using two different images, but I am so out of the habit of teaching a program that it failed miserably. I scrapped it and  just went around from student-to-student and helped them  use the move tools, the magic wand, the magnetic lasso, some layering transformations and opacity settings and we were golden. What’s more, they started helping each other and I was once agin in the comfortable position of not trying to lecture about an application I am only moderately comfortable in 🙂 The crazy thing is their work was good and fun! Only one had ever used Photoshop before—another knew GIMP!—but they all picked it up rather quickly and the fact they were photoshopping a creeper into a scene from their favorite film made them that much more invested. Here’s a couple of examples from their work today:

The Road to WeeGee

Obama creeps on Land of the Lost

Yeah I was there


Anyway, I loved the character weegee (based on Luigi from the Mario franchise) creeping on The Road to El Dorado. A couple of them had Obama as the creeper, which I am fascinated by—Obama love in the younger generations is pretty interesting to me. I don’t think anyone in ds106 at UMW has done any Obama meme art for the class until now. And creeping your way into the Breakfast Club is nothing short of genius!

In less than an hour 5 high school students knocked out some impressive first runs at ds106 assignments using Photoshop and had fun along the way (two stars down!). I think the marker of ds106’s greatness is the way it can adapt across different registers so seamlessly to highlight skills of K12 or college age students alike. I can’t believe more elementary, middle school, and high school teachers aren’t experimenting wildly with models like this (or maybe they are and I just don’t know it). I could care less if it’s ds106, but the idea of an open framework where they can program the assignments, share their work, have fun, and fine tune media creation skills seems like a pretty solid approach to all kinds of web literacies—or whatever we want to call them. I’ll stop preaching now, but jesus stop talking about it and start playing with it—it freaking works!

I’ll stop there because tomorrow we do animated GIFs and I have to do a little prep on the creative GIF I will be bestowing on them 😉


* One thing that struck me while running with this two-week course is that when I showed off the assignment bank to these 5 students they were immediately excited about creating stuff—and there is so much great stuff there. With all the talk about MOOCs I think we missed the boat with open, shareable frameworks that anyone can tap into—the key is personal ownership, syndication, and collaboratively created and shareable spaces (green spaces!). Funny how none of these ideas really come up in the larger, popularized discussions of MOOCs—it’s as if the idea of architecture and sharing has all just been re-canned as large broadcast experiences. That seems completely antithetical to the original framework of open, portable experiences, but more and more it’s what the MOOC conversation is evolving into: the focus on consumable product rather than a process of individual ownership and communal exploration with the web as platform.

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13 Responses to ds106: The Breakfast Club Edition

  1. This is beautiful on so many levels, how much creativity can be unleashed in a short time, and also that ds106 is something that can play over almost any age range. That is impressive already. But more, it says what the group dynamic can mean in the space that si ds106, the MOOC that is more than a MOOC.

    “Don’t you…. forget about me…”

  2. Mike C. says:

    I think your final comment is right. Also, I am still trying to figure out what an assignment bank looks like for content that is not as repeatable (e.g. infographic criticism). Again I think the most interesting piece about ds106 is the loosely coupled pieces that can be shared across multiple institutions.

  3. Mike C. says:

    I also think Obama the Shusher is wonderful.

  4. Kris Swanson says:

    This is wonderful! Isn’t it amazing what kids can do when given a little structure and support, but not told to do things the “right way”? All summer I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to extend my ds106 experience to my students in the fall. Your project is giving me more to think about.

    • Reverend says:


      I am lucky in that I don’t have to grade them at all so that isn’t hanging over their head, but at the same time today and yesterday I instructed them very quickly for 15 minutes and then let them work for the next hour or so independently, with individualized help. It was awesome, so enjoyable, and they are so unbelievably creative. I am in awe!

  5. Melanie says:

    In the spring I’m going to be teaching a section of senior seminar relating to the maker ethos in politics, art, technology etc. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to incorporating some elements of DS106, especially the “domain of one’s own” philosophy. One of the questions I’ve been thinking about concerns the adoption of yet another piece of media/technology. If my students aren’t already blogging, will they want to use a platform in addition to Facebook and Twitter? Will they buy into blogging? I guess their buy-in really depends on how excited they are about the subject and whether they’re excited enough to share.

    And here’s another blog-related question: Have you found UMW faculty/staff/students to be excited about blogging, or do people perceive it as just one more thing to keep up with?

    This is a great post on digital storytelling for school-age kids. I’ve been rolling the idea of something DS106-like for middle and upper school students for a few weeks now. Definitely something to flesh out over the next few months.

    • Reverend says:


      we have really fostered a culture of blogging here at UMW, but I don;t thank that means it can;t work elsewhere. Frankly, part of the domain of one;s Own logic is having them understand and experiment with creating their own site from scratch in a space they manage, maintain, and control the data to the degree that they can.

      Part of their being excited abou this prospect has everything to do with how you approach the idea of them being sharecroppers on Twitter and Facebook, which are not necessarily bad, but place them in a situation where they don’t own their data. That may not convince them in the end, but it really is a conversation they need to hear, and many of them want to. Coming out of ds106 we have anywhere form 25-40% of our students controlling their work, a fact I am very proud of. It is not absolute, but it is forcing them to think a bit more critically about the landscape they inhabit.

      Does that help at all?

  6. Martha says:

    This makes me think we need to get UMW to sponsor a DS106 summer camp every year.

  7. Martha says:

    To be clear, I mean a REAL summer camp — none of this crazy MacGuffiny shit.

  8. I’ve got a crazy idea of trying to use this framework with my wife’s class of 8 year olds. I’m not kidding. I’ll let you know how it goes.

    • Reverend says:


      I totally think ti will work, it is pretty easy, and I just curate the assignments that introduce them to a few concepts. Like the animatyed GIF, the postcards from magical places, the 4 icon challenge etc. I have had a total blast this past week.

  9. Pingback: ds106 Breakfast Club Edition Post-Mortem | bavatuesdays

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